Examine 'monstrous' allegations of forced sterilization of Indigenous women: NDP
'All Canadians have a responsibility to ensure that these practices never happen again'
The federal government and the provinces must examine "monstrous" allegations of modern-day forced sterilizations of Indigenous women, NDP reconciliation critic Romeo Saganash said Monday before he pressed for answers in the House of Commons.
Coerced sterilization clearly breaches human-rights standards that Canada must fight to uphold, Saganash in an interview Monday, and said that authorities should very carefully read Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the UN in 1948.
That international agreement says that "genocide" includes any acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as by "imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group."
Canadians should not tolerate allegations of forced sterilization in their country, Saganash said, and Ottawa must address the issue as victims share their stories.
"I think they have to take this seriously," said the MP from northern Quebec, a graduate of the University of Quebec at Montreal's law school. "Just the fact that it is happening and people are coming out makes it serious enough to look for a solution."
The issue of forced sterilizations will also be raised at the UN Committee Against Torture this week, when Amnesty International Canada and a national law firm call for accountability for the practice.
Maurice Law is leading a proposed class-action lawsuit against the federal government, the government of Saskatchewan, all its health authorities, and individual medical professionals.
The lawsuit was launched in 2017 by two affected women in the Saskatoon Health Region who each claimed $7 million in damages. Now about 60 women are part of the lawsuit.
An additional 32 women have come forward to report they were sterilized without consent since The Canadian Press first published a story last Sunday, associate Alisa Lombard said Monday, noting the women are mostly from Saskatchewan but elsewhere as well.
A gross violation of human rights
In its submission to the UN committee, Maurice Law said there has been no effort at a comprehensive review to understand the scale of the problem or the conditions that make forced sterilizations possible.
It also listed a number of solutions, including a proposal to specifically criminalize forced sterilization as the "single most effective, immediate and enduring measure that could be taken" to protect women from this practice.
The Liberal government has not indicated it is looking at this step.
During question period on Monday, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said the Liberal government knows coerced sterilization is a gross violation of human rights and of reproductive rights.
The federal government is actively working with provinces and faculties of medicine to ensure safe and culturally appropriate health care is available across the country, she added.
A 'heinous' practice
"This is not something that any one order of government can address alone," Philpott said. "All Canadians have a responsibility to ensure that these practices never happen again."
For its part, Amnesty International Canada has recommended the federal government appoint a special representative to examine the prevalence of the practice.
Yvonne Boyer, a Metis senator for Ontario, has welcomed this recommendation. She's said that tubal ligations carried out on unwilling Indigenous women constitute one of the "most heinous" practices in health care in Canada.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde also wants to see the scope of forced sterilization examined and called the practice wrong, immoral and a gross human-rights violation.
- This story has been updated from a previous version that referred to Romeo Saganash as a lawyer. In fact, while he was the first Cree to graduate law school in Quebec, he is not currently a member of the bar.Nov 27, 2018 5:00 PM ET